The Charlottesville City School Board has postponed a decision on whether to donate nearly 9 acres of land for various easements associated with the County’s portion of the Meadowcreek Parkway. Board members wanted more time to consider the resolution, and also wanted to confer with members of City Council. The Board will now take up the matter at its meeting on May 1.
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The issue was first presented to the School Board
during a work session on April 3, 2008
. At the time, Board members sought more information about the design speed for the road, the timing of the road’s construction, and pedestrian safety. Many questions had to be deferred at the time because Spencer DeJarnette, the VDOT official on-hand, is a right-of-way expert who could not provide answers to detailed questions about the parkway’s design.
Two weeks later, a contingent of City, County and VDOT officials were present to provide those answers. City Manager Gary O’Connell, Angela Tucker of the Department of Neighborhood Development Services, and City Attorney Craig Brown were all in attendance. Jack Kelsey, a transportation engineer for the County, was also on hand to answer questions. They also provided a context map that depicts the parkway as well as a linear park that includes a 10’ wide trail that spans the entire length of the Parkway from Rio Road to the Route 250 bypass. The map lined the rear wall of the Booker T. Reaves Media Center.
The School Board’s line of questioning was primarily lead by Kathy Galvin, who was elected to the School Board last year. She wanted assurances that the lowest possible speed limit would be posted through the parkway’s intersection with Melbourne Road.
“I would like to actually see it get down to like 15 if possible because as I understand it, the chances of fatalities greatly diminish once you get it under 15 miles per hour,” Galvin said.
In fact, the City portion will be sign-posted at 25 miles per hour, and runs from Melbourne to Route 250. Jack Kelsey said the County’s portion is being designed to the same standards as the City’s portion. The County will have to petition VDOT for permission to post a 25 m.p.h. limit, because the County lacks the authority about how secondary roads are governed.
Most importantly, Galvin said she wanted to see a raised pedestrian bridge to link Charlottesville High School with the linear park, which will be to the east of the parkway. She said she wanted to eliminate the potential for conflict between cars and pedestrians, and asked if that had been considered. Galvin added that the linear park is “exactly the kind of feature” she’d like to see, but that she had reservations.
“I’m really finding it very difficult to completely embrace this two mile long road with no east-west connection,” Galvin said, referring to the County’s portion of the road. There are plans for a pedestrian bridge across the City’s portion of the road north of the Meadowcreek Parkway Interchange. Galvin said she has begun looking to see what funding might be available to build a similar bridge or tunnel near Charlottesville High School.
School board members spent much of the hour and twenty minute discussion standing in front of the map, pointing out possible locations for such a bridge. Tucker said that further additions could be made in the future. She said was concerned about the funding and time required for redesign needed, and recommended that enhancement projects could be coordinated with the City, the County and the Rivanna Trails Foundation. Tucker said efforts can continue to add to the project, as long as funding could be found for some of the features. “There’s no reason we couldn’t work toward that,” Tucker said.
Galvin also raised the possibility of workforce housing being built in the County near CHS, and the multi-use trail would help connect people to both CHS and CATEC, which is located at the northern terminus of the County’s portion of the road. She said one benefit to the linear park is that it would allow people living in those areas to walk or bike to work, but also said she was concerned that would generate more traffic.
Tucker said the traffic model used has taken future residential development into consideration. The road is expected to handle 20,000 vehicles a day.
School Board Member Colette Blount asked if the road would be expanded to four-lanes in the future. Tucker said the road was only approved by City Council as a two-lane facility, and it would be very unlikely that an expansion in the design would happen.
School Board member Leah Puryear said that no speed limit short of zero would be safe for students, and that she needed to be assured that the lowest possible speed limit would be enacted.
School Board Ned Michie asked if trucks would be allowed to use the County’s portion of the road. Kelsey said that the topic had not come up, but that the County is planning to match the City’s design criteria. The City will not allow commercial trucks on its portion of the Parkway.
Several Board members asked why the City was being asked to donate its portion of the land, rather than be compensated for it. Tucker said one of City Council’s conditions is that the City will receive about 50 acres in extra parkland on what is now County land.
Galvin introduced amendments to the resolution that would commit the City and County to designing and building an east-west grade-separated connection between CHS and the trail.
However, Blount suggested the School Board have additional time to consider the possibility.
Michie agreed. He said the School Board shouldn’t make a transportation decision, but should only consider the effect on the high school. “I do want to make sure that this is a safe friendly road,” he said.
The School Board will now consider the issue at its meeting on May 1. The City Council will take up the topic at its meeting on May 5, as well as the design for stormwater management facilities to be built in the park.
School Board member Juandiego Wade recused himself from the discussion because of his employment as the County’s transportation planner.
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